By Anthony Hinckleman
Sun contributing writer
With decades of cultural unrest, war, famine and countless other horrors, Sudan has perhaps found the stability it has sought since its independence in 1956. Darren Hercyk of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) met with Dominic Diing, founder of the New Nation Institute, and other Syracuse Sudanese at St. Vincent de Paul Church to speak of an upcoming referendum that will decide Sudan’s fate.
The Sudan Referendum is a voting process, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” as echoed by many at the meeting, that gives South Sudanese the opportunity to determine whether South Sudan should stay united with the north or formally secede to become a new nation.
The reason for the South to leave stems from decades of violence between the regions. North Sudan has a prominent Arabic Muslim demographic contrasting to the African Christian countrymen who make up the majority of the south.
Sudan’s second civil war (a continuation of the first civil war of 1955-72) erupted in 1983 when Islamic Sharia Law, which requires a strict adherence to Muslim law, was declared in the entire country of Sudan.
Thus began two decades of fighting between southern rebel forces and the military government which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Jan. 9, 2005.
The Referendum will take place exactly six years after the treaty was signed, Jan. 9, 2011.
CRS has stepped in to mediate a peaceful transition for Sudan during the referendum.
“[Even] if there was no conflict in Sudan,” said Hercyk, the “need in Sudan today is enormous.”
CRS is a Catholic organization which provides aid to conflicted countries and regions. Its services include providing food, digging wells for clean water and building schools and education systems.
This upcoming referendum, however, poses new challenges to preserving Sudan’s fragile peace between the north and south. According to Hercyk, CRS is overseeing seven peace building projects throughout Sudan. These projects include everything from rebuilding peace and justice commissions to operating radio stations.
“This is the largest peace building effort we’ve ever done,” he said.
These projects are implemented through the Sudanese dioceses, which understand the conflicts in their areas the best.
“We’re supporting them with technical support. We’re supporting them with finances to run the workshops, to run these activities,” explained Hercyk.
Yet, as a humanitarian organization, CRS has to be ready for the worst.
“If the referendum doesn’t go well, if there are border conflicts, if there is a migration of people, are the dioceses ready to respond?” Hercyk hypothesized.
CRS has worked on emergency response plans with each diocese and has also received funding to start stockpiling materials.
“We have to make our own set of assumptions so that we’re ready for anything that may happen,” Hercyk said.
He says three scenarios could unfold as a result of the referendum based upon the CRS’s experiences in Sudan.
As of now, Sudan is in what Hercyk dubs the “muddling phase,” in which there is no progress or regress.
The muddling phase is an opportune time for the CRS and the Sudanese dioceses to get a headstart on their peace programs and prepare in advance for whatever may come next.
In Sudan’s post referendum stage, Hercyk and his associates fear a border conflict. “Even if the referendum goes well there are still so many unresolved things at the border. … There’s just so many things around that part of the country that we worry about,” he said.
Atem Anyang Abile, a Sudanese at the meeting, believes it has much to do with the resources.
“[The Sudanese government] wants to let people go back to war … because all of the resources they get are from the south. According to them, we have no Sudan without South Sudan. It’s because we have the oil, the diamond … it’s all from the South,” he explained.
The third scenario following the border conflict could be war.
For the referendum to be considered valid, 60 percent of registered voters must vote. The result will be determined by a simple majority.
Since Sudan is a country torn apart by centuries of war, many of its former inhabitants are now immigrants voting from other countries. To qualify as its own voting jurisdiction, a
Sudanese community living outside of Sudan needs a minimum of 20,000 people.
Any Sudanese living in smaller communities must travel to the capital of the country they reside in to register and vote. While this might be manageable in smaller countries, it presents a difficult task for Sudanese faced with traveling across America to vote in Washington, D.C. This is what Syracuse Sudanese must do.
For Dominic Diing, getting Sudanese to vote is of the utmost importance. Diing’s program New Nation Institute is designed specifically to inform people of the referendum and teach Sudanese everywhere about democracy and the voting process.
“We need to educate ourselves to do and expect whatever,” said Diing.
He said it is a matter of meeting the conditions that the referendum presents. The first condition, he explained, was figuring a way to transport the numerous Sudanese who have to travel to the capital to vote.
Transporting a whole family by plane, he reasoned, is far too expensive. Yet even sending a group by bus will take a great deal of funding, which he hopes will come from donors and churches.
Another condition of the referendum is making sure registered voters vote. If registered voters failed to vote, they would count against the 60 percent needed to validate the referendum.
If the referendum fails, it will be postponed for two months, according to Diing. If 60 percent of registered voters again fail to vote, there will be no more chances, and Sudan will go on as it is.
Yet many believe that even the postponement is a trap for the north Sudanese government to further confuse the process.
“It’s a political ploy … a tactical delay,” explained Father Darius O. Makuja, a professor at Le Moyne College who was present at the meeting. “Unity is unthinkable for many. Everyone wants secession,” he said.
Since over 80 percent of South Sudan is uneducated the potential for voter deception exists.
“That is why we don’t want to relax, we don’t want to go back to that history. We have to organize ourselves first,” Diing said.
Those at the meeting stated Sudan’s best chance for peace is by keeping constant pressure on its government during these few months surrounding the referendum.
“We need the international community to be involved. We need a country that will have power … like the United States,” said Abile. “If we don’t put pressure on the government of Sudan, the government of Sudan will take the people back to war.”
Father Makuja explained that the American people can influence their legislator to speak out, to allow the referendum to go as planned.
“External forces are so important. When the [Sudanese] government knows they’re being watched, they’ll take it seriously,” he said.